Saturday, July 07, 2012

Certified Shark Fins - redux!

The Shark fin trade - unsustainable and unmonitored

David's post keeps on giving!

Check out the comment by KT Tan at the end of the comments thread.
I'm being told that KT is a well known troll in the Asian press, and I should really not be feeding him - but his comments echo those by Carlie Lim of the HK Shark fin traders' association, and even those by the infamous Giam of CITES. It's crafty stuff that latches on to the bullshit propagated by what Sam calls verbose, passionate, on-line activists, and it cleverly mixes fact & fiction to weave a narrative of western imperialism and disrespect of Chinese culture.
Are we just gonna let it stand?

But worry not - I'm not gonna be suckered into feeding the troll.
Yes of course he is right about the bloody unhelpful generalization and hyperbole by the sharktivist fringe - but then comes a whole list of disinformation and rhetoric that has been brilliantly addressed and thoroughly debunked by Shark Savers here and here, so I really need not rack my brain for further clever rebuttals.

Where I want to go with this post is somewhere else.
Tan states the following
Ultimately, the moral/ethical question that arises is this : Should we eat shark’s fin soup at all?
My answer is that we should not if sharks are an endangered species, just like we do not eat whales, dolphins, tigers, elephants. bears, white sturgeons, snow leopard or panda bears etc.
Yup, and apart from not eating them, we should also not bloody buy products resulting from the poaching of endangered Tigers, Rhino, Bears and Elephants - right?

And since we're at it.
What about the bile of tortured Bears, or the meat of tortured or inhumanely killed cattle; or blood diamonds and gold that finance civil wars and genocide - and this irrespective of whether they were "legally" obtained from some murderous dictator or his militia! Or cocoa (= chocolate) and garments produced by child labor or in sweat shops - and this irrespective of whether child labor and sweat shops are being tolerated in the country of provenience! Or coffee and bananas where the growers are not getting a fair price - and this irrespective of whether the middlemen have purchased them legally! Or the products of the drug cartels - and the list goes on and on and on!
See where this is leading?

So what about those fins.
Yes the 500-odd Sharks are not all endangered - but it just so happens that the majority of the species whose fins are being traded are!
And let there also be no doubt that the only legitimate organization that assesses whether a Shark is threatened is the IUCN!
Certainly not CITES that is a politically and economically driven trade organization where several predominantly Asian countries have successfully prevented the listing of Sharks, this by "convincing" a minority to block the vote of a majority, very much like many predominantly Asian countries are undermining the decision making process within the RFMOs and using development aid to then go and reap and pillage in distant countries!

The facts are crystal clear.
Most Shark fisheries are being badly managed or not managed at all, and whereas it is correct to demand that the relevant countries must enact better management measures, it is never-the less equally correct to state that as long as they don't, one should not buy those fins. The same applies to fins that have been poached, or that have been traded through criminal cartels, or purchased from greedy middle men who cheat the fishermen - those fins should even be declared to be illegal. And the same definitely applies to fins that come from Sharks that have been cruelly finned, and from Sharks that are endangered!
That's got nothing to do with cultural discrimination - those are just the perfectly ordinary and increasingly stringent ethical guidelines of any trade, see the examples above!

And yet, the Shark fin trade remains completely non-transparent and unmonitored - to the point that one can easily purchase fins of GWs, and that shops and restaurants proudly display fins of Whale Sharks that have been obviously poached and traded in contravention of CITES Appendix II!
As long as that is the case, that trade needs to be boycotted - and where necessary, especially when there are criminal elements in play, it is perfectly legitimate that the authorities intervene with legislative bans!

Any good news for the traders?
Yes: there exist well managed and perfectly legal Shark fisheries!
I see no reason whatsoever why the fins from those legal and sometimes even reputable food fisheries for Dogfish, Thresher, Mako or the Sharks that aliment the appetite for flake should not be used for that soup!
Have those fins certified, document their provenience, brand them as sustainable and you may even succeed in selling them at a premium, much like, say, pole-caught Skipjack!

So here's the deal.
Prove that you're not exploiting poor fishermen or developing nations that don't have the means to properly manage Sharks and/or enforce their own laws; prove that you're not encouraging poaching and retention of live bycatch, and that you are not buying your products from criminal cartels; prove that you're not profiting from cruel, wasteful and unsustainable fishing practices!

That's the only way you will survive as an industry.
And if so, godspeed - and to your customers, as long as they really want to eat that stuff: bon appetit and enjoy your freedom of choice, individual predilections and cultural traditions!

And if not, face the consequences: the boycotts, the bans and the criminal prosecution.
The choice is yours.

Mary? :)


Mary said...

Great blog Mike! I completely agree, BUT (of course there's a but!) .... Until there is a completely transparent, incorruptible and enforceable mechanism for certifying which shark fins (and other shark products too) have truly been sustainably and ethically sourced, then fins bans are a reasonable and important part of the solution. I also believe that it's dangerous to advocate "certified shark fins" without very clearly defining that term and how that transparent, incorruptible and enforceable mechanism would actually work.

And in the meantime, consumers need to pay attention to what they're buying and take some responsibility for the consequences of their purchase decisions. And that means all of us, and not just the people in shark fin consuming communities.

Tropical Selkie said...

To quote you, Mike, "f**cking brilliant". I also agree with Mary, as I almost always do. I like the idea of switching the burden of proof to the supplier, however, I know that 'certified' seafood has had its is always a question of who, exactly, is guarding the hen house and what the consequences are if you fail to keep those hens safe, to stretch an analogy. Any mechanism/system to 'certify' fins would have to be extremely transparent and strict. Of course, there is also the old 'elephant ivory' question regarding trade and certifications: if you open the supply of a legal version of the product, are you encouraging an illegal version too? For now, I think strategic, effective fin trade bans are the leverage we need to keep the momentum in shark advocacy. Thanks!!

DaShark said...

Thanks! :)

The idea is of course to legislate a ban, but with an exemption stating something like

It shall be a rebuttable presumption that if any shark fin is found, the shark fin is deemed possessed or transferred in violation of this Law.
or the like, and to then have a precise list of approved species and proveniences.

The fins would have to be declared and certified when they get imported, and any fin without the correct import papers would automatically be illegal & trigger draconian fines.

But of course I'm not a trade expert, I'm sure there are already other adequate mechanisms in place for other restricted goods, say, weapons or the like.

And yes, until they have come up with solutions that satisfy us, the stuff needs to be banned.

DaShark said...

@KT Tan

Stop tolling, buddy - it's just not going to work.

I say, it is OK to eat Sharks, including the fins, if they come from well managed, legal and ethical fisheries - do you have any problem with that?

Anonymous said...

Replly from KT Tan

@dashark aka Michael Aw

Are the tens of millions of lbs of shark meat, deceptively sold as flakes in Oz and NZ, rock salmons and huss in the UK (your country), saumonette, Schillerlocken in Germany and spianroli in Italy and grayfish in the USA "from well managed, legal and ethical fisheries"?

If not why are you not criticizing that? A case of selective amnesia?

I don't buy or eat "products resulting from the poaching of endangered Tigers, Rhino, Bears and Elephants" or bile from bears but I love to try kangaroo tail soup and maybe wombat fries. Any problem with that?

As a Brit it is hypocritical for you to take the moral high ground and talk about genocide when your own country has gone down in history as the biggest colonizers and killers of natives in the world and theft of their countries and wealth. Oh you will say you were not even born yet. I am talking about your evil country, the UK, not you, pal.

The UN Convention called Cites, with 175 members including the UK, is the world's only watchdog on trade of endangered species not an NGO, like the IUCN. Wishful thinking will get you no where.

So when are you gonna have the intestinal fortitude to point out where my list of 14 facts are,as you carelessly claimed "ultimately nothing more than a clever distortion of the facts." Or is it because the 14 facts are indeed facts?

And stop deleting my post if you want a fair debate.

DaShark said...

Aaaah KT – always the troll, huh…

Michael Aw??? :)

Anyway, where there are unsustainable fisheries, they need to be reformed - and many people are campaigning for that, and this not only in Asia and not only for Sharks, but also for Tuna etc.
Don't tell me that you don't know that?

Good on ‘ya for not consuming other endangered animals.
If you were not so preoccupied with yourself, you would have discerned that I got nothing against the soup in principle.
What I'm actually stating is that provided that the fins are certified (e.g. sourced from sustainable Shark fisheries in the USA and Europe), everybody should be free to enjoy that soup.

The problem with the fin trade is that it is completely non transparent and that it needs to reform, just like many other trades have been forced to do – not by the UN but instead, owing to pressure by the consumers, something we are now witnessing in Asia, incidentally very much by Asians.

In the end, sustainability is nothing more than good business.
Unsustainable fisheries, and the trade depending on them, will ultimately fish themselves into extinction.
That cannot be what anybody wants - no?

Kangaroos and Wombats?
There are several species per category - but if the species is not endangered, enjoy the tail soup and the fritters!

DaShark said...

KT - chill out brother.

I've given you the opportunity to express yourself, and I have replied.
You're way too angry and offensive for me to tolerate you any further, so please go troll somewhere else - it takes me a grand total of 3 seconds to delete your comments, so just go away.